Washington Nationals: 5 Second-Half Expectations for Bryce Harper

Kevin Boilard@@KevinBoilardCorrespondent IJuly 17, 2012

Washington Nationals: 5 Second-Half Expectations for Bryce Harper

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    Six months ago you might not have known his name.  Now, you’re probably sick of hearing it. 

    While the Washington Nationals have seemingly milked 19-year-old superstar Bryce Harper for all he’s worth, the team should still have high expectations for him in the second half of the season.

    When Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was forced to pull out of the 2012 All-Star Game due to knee surgery, Harper was selected as his replacement (ESPN).  With that selection, Harper became the youngest position player to ever appear in the MLB All-Star Game.

    Washington has relied heavily on Harper’s services so far this season. 

    As a team, the Nationals have struggled offensively, yet Harper has been one of the team’s most productive hitters.  He has also seamlessly stepped into the Nationals’ starting outfield and, luckily for Washington fans, Harper’s biggest blunder of the year came in the All-Star Game rather than a regular season contest.

    Teams should be playing their best baseball late in the season.  With all Harper has done in his first 67 games, he still needs to do more if his team wants to remain playoff contenders.  This article will highlight five expectations the Washington Nationals have for Harper in the second half of the season.

Crack 20-Plus Home Runs

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    Harper has swung for the fences on plenty of occasions this summer—on eight of them, it paid off.  There’s no doubt about Harper’s ability to put the ball out of the park, but if the Nationals want to stay competitive in the back half of the season, they would benefit from a few extra home runs.

    Harper’s eight home runs place him fourth behind Ian Desmond (17), Adam LaRoche (15) and Ryan Zimmerman (10) for the team lead.  Harper hit four home runs in May and four more in June. 

    However, through 16 days in July, he has yet to connect on the long ball. 

    The Nationals have recorded 92 home runs as a team in 2012, earning themselves a ranking of 14th in Major League Baseball.  Still, Washington could propel themselves into the MLB elite with a little help from Harper.

    If Harper can find his home run stroke, the Nationals will be unstoppable late in the season.  Harper should not try to change his swing up too much; his consistency is much more valuable than his big play potential.

Maintain One of the Team’s Top Batting Averages

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    Harper’s .273 batting average is the third best on the team (min. 100 at bats).  Desmond (.287) and Michael Morse (.279) are the only Nationals that have been more efficient from the batter’s box this summer.

    As I mentioned in the previous slide, while Harper’s long ball ability is a nice luxury to have, it is his consistent batting that makes him so valuable.  Harper has seen most of his action from the second slot in the Nationals batting order—a position he has deserved.  Harper’s .345 on base percentage is the best on the team (min. 100 at bats).

    The Nationals have struggled all season on offense. 

    Their team batting average (.251) is ranked 18th in the MLB, and that can be attributed to a lack of hitting depth.  Washington’s offense is delicately balanced on the consistency of its key contributors.

    While the Nationals would like to see Harper hit on a few more home runs, if it came at the expense of his reliability, it would not be worth it.  If he can keep up his current batting average and avoid a hitting slump at all costs, Harper should be able to power his team through the second half of the season.

Surpass 25 Stolen Bases

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    What Harper has that other players do not is his ability to pick up his team with an electrifying play.  He has exceptional athletic ability, especially for a 19 year old, and he seems to find a way to incorporate it into every facet of his game.

    One way Harper utilizes his extraordinary speed is by stealing bases.  He has stolen a total of 11 bases so far this season, including two against the Colorado Rockies on July 8.  Harper has been hot lately—the last time he was caught stealing was in mid-June.

    There will be a lot of long, hot days as summer wears on for the Washington Nationals as well as the rest of the MLB.  If the Nationals find themselves in a late-game stalemate, a Harper stolen base may provide just enough momentum to pull out a key victory.

    If Harper can bring his final season total up over 25, the Nationals should find plenty of success in the latter half of the season.

Come Through in the Clutch

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    On June 28 versus the Colorado Rockies, Harper stepped up to the plate to start off the ninth inning.  With his team trailing by a run, Harper took a ball and a strike on his first two pitches. 

    On the third pitch, Harper crushed the ball over the right field wall, tying the game up at 10 with a solo shot.

    The game ended up taking 11 innings to decide a victor, and it was eventually Rockies second baseman Marco Scutaro, not Harper, who ended up being the hero of the night with a walk-off single. 

    However, Harper proved something to his team that night in late June: the presence of the clutch gene.

    As the regular season comes to a close, the division races will become much tighter.  The difference between clinching a playoff berth and being sent home packing may come down to a single game—or single play for that matter.

    Harper’s home run on June 28 is proof that he has the ability to come through in the clutch. 

    While it is uncertain whether or not the Nationals’ season will even come down to a single game or play, one thing is for certain. If I’m Nationals manager Davey Johnson, there’s nobody I’d rather have at the plate than Harper with the game on the line.

Continue to Entertain

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    The Nationals have only been a team since 2005, and have yet to qualify for postseason play.  The Washington Capitals have never won a Stanley Cup, and the last time the Washington Wizards or Washington Redskins won a world championship was in 1978 and 1991, respectively. 

    Needless to say, sports fans in D.C. have had little to cheer for as of late. That’s why they love Harper so much. 

    Aside from maybe Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals, Washington has not had such an electrifying talent in what feels like decades.  He whacked his first big league home run and gashed his face open after smashing his bat (AOL Sporting News). He stole home on Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, and he told a reporter, “That’s a clown question, bro.” He got Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen all worked up over some pine tar (Washington Post).

    The 19-year old has found ways to nab more headlines in his first few months in the league than the average player grabs in an entire career.

    If nothing else, Nationals fans will appreciate Harper for breaking the trend of apathy in Washington.  People will always tune into Nats games to see what the young star will do next.